A rural leader yesterday announced he had changed his opinion on village elections, saying he now supported giving non-indigenous villagers the right to stand in rural committee elections this year. Rural patriarch Lau Wong-fat had earlier demanded this right be exclusively reserved for indigenous residents. The move was seen as a concession by the Heung Yee Kuk - a statutory body representing indigenous residents, which Mr Lau chairs - even though the Government has lodged an appeal against a court ruling in January that declared the traditional village election system, whereby only indigenous villagers may become chiefs, to be illegal. The kuk had attacked the Court of Appeal ruling as a breach of the 'legislative intent' of Article 40 of the Basic Law, which seeks to protect the traditional rights and interests of indigenous villagers. The kuk had maintained it was inappropriate to let 'outsiders' head indigenous villages because only indigenous residents were familiar with village affairs. Mr Lau, however, said rural elections should now be reformed. 'Our society is moving on. We will therefore talk with the Government and come up with a system which fits in with modern public sentiment,' he said. A meeting between kuk members, the Home Affairs Bureau and the Constitutional Affairs Bureau is expected next week. Mr Lau stressed the kuk would go ahead with the reform regardless of the result of the appeal, as he was confident the majority of indigenous residents would support the change. He said he was not worried that the traditional rights of indigenous villagers would be threatened if non-indigenous residents became chiefs. 'Our rights are protected by the Basic Law. I don't think they will be eroded,' he said. Currently, non-indigenous residents can vote and stand in village head elections in one-sixth of the 700 villages in the New Territories. Tse Kwan-sang, one of the non-indigenous residents who took the Government to court, welcomed the kuk's move, saying it was time for the rural electoral system to change. Acting Director of Home Affairs Lui Hau-tuen, however, was cautious, saying more studies were needed because the question was complicated. A Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman declined to say why the kuk had switched but stressed the Government would go ahead with the appeal. 'We have to decide how we will move on reforms after the ruling comes from the court,' she said.